Lucky Us is the story of a patchworked family: two sisters (by different mothers), their “blithe, inscrutable, crooked father,” and their various acquaintances who become new patchworked families — all manipulating and scheming their way through the 1940s US of A.
This is voluptuous American writing. Like the family, the story is patchworked — the pieces, not necessarily linear, but when put together, they tell a more perfect story than tales that are forced into a tight chronological narrative. Events are revealed through a simultaneous tide-in and undertow-out flow of action and letters from the future; the writing voice changes from third person to various different first persons and yet it is never confusing. Why? Because Amy Bloom writes at the pleasure of a muse that is uniquely her own — a truly authentic and organic voice and structure. Bloom’s voice and structure are so naturally honest that they seem easy. But I’ve read writers who I’ve suspected have tried to copy her, and, in their copycat hands, you realize this level of honesty is anything but easy. Amy Bloom copies no one. She writes at the pleasure of her Original Voice. And so few writers find, let alone express themselves in or from their original voices that it seems rare. Maybe that’s just the way it is. An Original Voice is treasure. This book is treasure.
I mean that in both an emotional and physical way. I found myself running my hands over the physical book — the lush colors and embossed type on the cover, the exquisite interior design and thick matte, deckle-edge paper (Susan Turner, designer), a reprise of the cover art in endpaper illustrations (Deborah Van Auten), and even a red detail on the top and bottom edges of the inner spine: this book — Bloom’s text and designers’ interpretation — is complete, cohesive, sensuous art. I read it as slowly as I could, rereading passages, not for the reasons I usually do — because a writer is “being literary” and therefore incomprehensible. I reread because I was savoring it, the way you would incredible food that you want to taste for as long as possible before swallowing and digesting it. Here’s a morsel, spoken by the younger sister, Evie, about her job telling fake fortunes in a beauty salon:
If you’d asked me what I understood about fortune-telling, I would have told you that no one came to see someone like me because they were happy. I would have said, People come because they are so frightened, they wake up in a sweat. They look into the well of their true selves, and the consequences of being who they are, and they’re horrified. They run to my little table to have me say that what they see is not what will happen.
Filled with real human beings and out-of-left field gallows humor, Lucky Us is a masterpiece.
Listen to Amy Bloom read on the Diane Rehm show.
And a blatant plug: If you like this book, you’ll like my new opus, coming out any day from Black Lawrence Press as their Big Moose Prize-winner, The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg. Zelda is at least a second cousin to younger sister Evie . . . and Susan Jane Gilman's protagonist Lillian Dunkle in her magnificent new book The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street.